Associated Press: Think before you tweet

Romenesko published a memo the Associated Press sent out after a couple of tweets received negative attention from news consumers. We discussed one of those tweets in the post “#StandWithWendy? The Associated Press Does.” Long story short: the employee who #StoodWithWendy should not have done so. Now everybody gets to be reminded of the standards in play.

From: AP Standards
Sent: Monday, July 15, 2013 11:37 PM
Subject: “From the Standards Center” – Social media and breaking news: avoiding pitfalls

Think before you tweet. It seems simple enough, and it’s a rule of thumb that can prevent the vast majority of missteps that a journalist might make on social networks. But given some recent issues that have come up on Twitter, it’s a good time to review some best practices, courtesy of Social Media Editor Eric Carvin.

Among the recent problems:

* A tweet that a staffer sent from the @AP Twitter account, related to the abortion fight in Texas, included the hashtag #StandWithWendy — a reference to Wendy Davis, a state senator who’s been fighting to block a new abortion law. This was an attempt to get more attention for the tweet, but it clearly violates AP policies on steering clear of opinion or advocacy.

* AP staff tweets related to the Zimmerman verdict largely were very smart and professional, but a lot of critics pointed to a tweet that was critical of the verdict from a former, temporary staffer who was not employed by AP at the time of the tweet. The widespread reaction serves as a reminder of how a single tweet from an individual can affect the greater AP.

Seems ridiculous that AP would be blamed for a stringer’s tweet, but it’s a good reminder to all of us that our social media presence reflects on our various associations (sorry to my fellow Lutherans, St. Louis Cardinals fans and Herb Alpert aficionados).

As for the initial #StandWithWendy tweet, I’m glad that the AP acknowledged its existence and the problems therein. Specifically, the memo says that that there are social media lines that should not be crossed:

 

* Re-read the AP Statement on News Values and Principles and the Social Media Guidelines for AP Employees. These documents offer detailed advice on avoiding any sort of public communication related to contentious issues that might be perceived as biased or opinionated.

* Remember that tweets and other social posts are public forms of communication. Because of where you’re employed, it will be perceived as coming from AP. Be objective and neutral as in our news content.

* Hashtags can be a useful tool for getting more exposure to a tweet, but consider whether a hashtag you’re planning to include might be seen as advocating a position on a divisive issue. The top priority here is meeting AP’s high standards for balanced reporting.

· Before you tweet, think a moment about how it might be perceived. Getting this right is, in large part, a matter of common sense — don’t leave your instincts behind in the rush to put out a tweet.

· If you’re on the fence about an approach to a tweet, play it safe. And you can also feel free to call on AP’s extensive resources for helping you make these decisions. They start with your own manager but include AP’s standards experts…

I’m a huge fan of social media and how it has enabled journalists to dialogue with readers and the larger community.

I also appreciate how social media can help a critic such as myself shine a light on the biases in news coverage. I was able, for instance, to tally how many times the AP issued tweets on two major trials this year:

George Zimmerman/Trayvon Martin: more than 272

Gosnell: 2

I think we’re up to 275 tweets on one trial. Still at two for the other. That’s helpful information for knowing how a news outlet treats different stories.

Social media enables reporters to learn about story angles, hear from disgruntled readers, and get their work out to readers more effectively. It’s generally a good thing. It’s also been eye-opening to see how reporters really feel about a given story when they put forth their personal opinions on Facebook or Twitter. And that leads to my question. Is it a good or bad thing for reporters to discuss their personal views on their Twitter or Facebook accounts? What should guide us as we think about how to manage our accounts? Speaking as someone whose work is entirely freelance, I have the freedom to let my freak flag fly on Twitter and Facebook. I know my last full-time employer would not have cottoned to that.

And yet I see many reporters, anchored at various mainstream media institutions, who do opine fairly freely. I have other reporter friends who have never uttered a personal opinion on Twitter. The trade-off seems to be between professionalism and serious engagement in social media. How best to navigate this conflict?

Picture of a reporter thinking before he tweets via Shutterstock.

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  • Carlh

    The memo’s comment (highlighted in Romenesko’s blog post) “don’t leave your instincts behind in the rush to put out a tweet” is particularly rich in my view. I presume that the the memo’s intention was to refer to journalistic instincts. Nevertheless, given the predictability of so many slants to AP stories of late, it seems pretty clear to this observer that such tweets (let alone the reports) are written precisely because some folks’ political instincts are never left behind–and some seem clueless that there may actually be a difference.